Wednesday, February 23, 2005

NYT Sees Chickens Coming Home to Roost

The Wall Street Journal has an insightful editorial concerning the Valerie Plame affair and the recent subpoenas of news reporters. Link. (free registration required)
The special counsel that the Times was cheering on, Patrick Fitzgerald, is now threatening a Times reporter with jail, and in a way that jeopardizes the entire press corps. This is what happens when liberals let their partisan disdain for a President obscure their interest in larger principles.

The Times was hardly alone, let us hasten to add. Well-nigh every liberal newspaper in the country was calling for Mr. Ashcroft to recuse himself and name a "special counsel," in the hope of nailing the Bush Administration official who had "leaked" the name of CIA analyst Valerie Plame. The idea that there might be some First Amendment equities at stake was overlooked amid the partisan frenzy, and in any case Mr. Novak was expendable because he was a conservative. (...)

The bitterest irony here is that this case should never have been investigated in the first place. Ms. Plame is the wife of Joseph Wilson, the CIA consultant who wrote a July 2003 op-ed in the Times accusing the Bush Administration of lying about yellow cake uranium ore from Niger. The allegation became a political cause celebre at the time, though a year later both a British and a U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee probe found that the White House had been accurate and that Mr. Wilson was the one who hadn't told the truth. (...)

A wiser prosecutor than Mr. Fitzgerald might well have come to this same conclusion (that no crime had been committed)and shut down the probe. But like so many "special" counsels who have only one case to prosecute, Mr. Fitzgerald seems to believe he'll be a failure if he doesn't charge someone with something. Thus his overzealous pursuit of reporters and their sources.

If a crime had been committed (and I am convinced that none had), than what the general public accepts as a "right" of a reporter to protect his sources during a criminal probe would not apply. A distinction must be made between two very different situations. If somebody has information about a crime, especially one committed by a public official, and tells a reporter about it, most would agree he should not have to reveal his source. However, if either someone tells a reporter of a crime that he himself had committed (i.e. a confession), or if the act of telling something to the reporter constitutes a crime (as the Times had alleged here), than few outside of newsrooms would see any "right" to withhold information from a grand jury.


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